After my youngest was born I was mentally kicked in the gut. I had not had a baby in 11 years so I forgot how much work a newborn was. Add in that I also work full time, it did not take long for me to feel completely overwhelmed. Newborns are these tiny selfish little DNA clones of you that make you find out what you’re really made of. I realized quite early on that Joey and I had very different views on newborn care. When I say early on, I mean like a week in and Joey is snoring all day and night and then talking on the phone to friends about how hard it is to take care of baby. Really? Last time I checked you took three naps, your nipples are still in tact and you’re not bleeding like a WWII victim from your pee hole. But I digress.
Here enters The Mental Load. All women have it. Not just those with husbands and children. I have always felt this Mental Load all my adult life and had no idea there was a name for it. French cartoonist Emma pretty much nailed this feeling in a comic she titled “You Should Have Asked” (thanks August for sending this to me and Casey and Dionne for listening to me moan and complain). Basically it describes an overworked mother riding the struggle bus trying to cook and take care of her kids while preparing for her dinner party. The husband chills on the couch with a beer entertaining the company while all hell is breaking loose in the kitchen. When dinner is completely ruined because the wife is in 72 places at one time the husband says “I would have helped you! You should have asked!” She goes on to say that when a man says “you should have asked” they are basically saying it is not their job to manage projects or even recognize when things need done. It is YOUR job to tell them. Men fail to realize that planning and organizing IS a full time job in itself. If we as women choose not to bear the mental load, the family dynamic suffers. The Mental Load means always having to remember. As women, the moment we open our eyes in the morning we start The Mental Load. “Did I answer that email at work? I have to register Kai for school this week. The diaper genie needs emptied…..pretty sure I told Joey that on Saturday……whatever I’ll do it. Actually Kaden needs diapers. Should I just move him to size 3? I feel like all babies his age are size 3. Maybe he is behind in his growth? I should ask his doctor. Oh yeah I need to set up that appointment….” And so on and so forth. This is all part of The Mental Load.
I experienced the epitome of Mental Load when I took 3 months off work after Kaden was born. Healing from an unplanned c-section, getting about 2-3 hours of sleep per night, my nipples feeling like I was breast-feeding piranha’s all day, trying to make sure my 12 year old didn’t feel neglected, we can say I was overloaded. Joey would come home from work, pat Kaden on his head and say “well, I’m gonna go poop and shower”. In significant other terms “poop” means actually pooping for roughly 2-4 minutes and the other half hour is just sitting there scrolling through Facebook until the backs of your thighs go numb from lack of blood circulation. To which then the spouse would “shower” which entails using all the hot water. He would come out of the bathroom, digestive tract clear, body clean, sit down to eat the dinner I prepared and then relax. I was jealous. Jealous that he was able to come home and decompress. I was jealous that he could mindlessly scroll through the internet and not worry about every little thing with the baby. Jealous the man could take a poop in peace! I spent 4 hours of the day turtle heading and then chose a 10 minute nap instead over pooping. I’m holding a screaming baby and eating at the same time, I have the beginning stages of dreadlocks because I hadn’t combed my hair in about 3 days. I’m wearing the same pair of sweatpants since Monday, and I haven’t showered since last week. My teeth feel like they have fuzz growing on top of them because it had been THAT long since I brushed them. I’ve been watching the same 3 minutes of the 2nd episode of Bachelorette for 2 weeks now because I keep getting interrupted, not to mention the Mental Load on top of all of this (Is the baby eating enough? Am I breastfeeding correctly? What is this rash? Maybe it was something I ate and now the baby is allergic. Great. Does Kai hate me? Will I EVER get my life back!?) Day in and day out this I finally snap and told Joey YOUNEEDTOHELPMEMOREWITHTHISBABY!!!! And his response: “Well you should have asked!” It took me by surprise. Why do I have to ask you to change a diaper, feed him, play with him, bathe him, give me a 15 minute break? Isn’t it clear these things need done? How do you come home and not notice!? Because most men don’t have the Mental Load gene. You have to ask them to do things which just adds to the list of things you have to do so you decide it’s not worth it, you’ll just do it yourself.
Weeks after this blow up I was introduced to the “You Should Have Asked” cartoon. I shared it (apprehensively) with Joey because it adequately described this feeling I’ve had for so long but was never able to vocalize. I think if you are feeling this way, sharing the cartoon is a good place to spur on a conversation. It did for us. But a few words of advice:
- Don’t place blame. Try to explain your feelings in a non-confrontational way. In my case Joey is a first time dad. He wasn’t purposefully trying to place all of Kaden’s care (mentally or physically) on me. He just felt as the parent with the least amount of experience he would just take a back seat and let me handle it all instead of realizing I can’t handle it all.
- Identify the inequalities, come up with a plan and how to execute. For us it is a list on the fridge. Sounds childish I know. But Joey is a list man. He needs to see things written out instead of just remembering. So I put together a list of things I’d like him to do on certain days. Bundle of joy Joey
- Sit your butt down and stop micromanaging. Joey does not bathe Kaden the way I do. He doesn’t rock Kaden to sleep the same way. He doesn’t lay him in the crib the way I do. But he is taking over the responsibility. I have to let him do it the way he does it and allow myself to enjoy the break.
- Make your spouse take the mental load! (this one is hard for me) When Joey would take night-time duty, I’d be waking up too. Asking him if he needs help, asking if he wants me to take over, waking up and checking the video monitor. Most of the time Kaden and Joey have season passes on the struggle bus when its Joey’s turn at night duty. It’s a lot of baby fussing, lights on and off, poop blowouts, walking up and down the hallway, butt pats and heavy sighing. Joey couldn’t swaddle him right and Kaden would bust out of his swaddle like the hulk and start screaming. I’d come to the rescue to re-swaddle. Joey can’t ever get him to fall back asleep so I’d come take over and rock him. STOP. If it’s your spouses turn for any responsibility let him worry about the task and the load.
I’m actually glad we were able to talk about it and honestly things have gotten way better. Not saying that Joey is always doing it right these days though. Sometimes I have to cut him a side eye or two and point to his list on the fridge. But if we didn’t have Joey for content, I’d lose about 75% of what this blog will probably be written about.
What are your thoughts about the mental load?